Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
City officials, environmental advocates, and gardening enthusiasts gathered amid Tuesday’s scorching heat to celebrate the completion of a project to beautify the worn Northern Avenue Bridge over Fort Point Channel.
More than 40 people were in attendance for a ribbon-cutting opening the new horticultural display, called the Harbor-Link Gardens, which includes hardy seaside plants and was funded by a $50,000 grant from the Boston Committee of the Garden Club of America to The Boston Harbor Association.
“This is just great,” said Leslie Will, vice-chair of the committee. “One of the biggest pedestrian walkways in Boston, and we’ve dressed it up.”
The Boston Harbor Association envisioned and oversaw the project on this bridge connecting downtown with the South Boston Seaport area, and it will maintain the 12 new planters through an agreement with the Boston Public Works Department.
The steel-truss bridge over the Fort Point Channel is more than 100 years old and was once busy with vehicles, but has long been limited to pedestrian use because of deterioration. Mayor Thomas M. Menino once wanted to tear down the bridge, and in 1999 vetoed a unanimous vote of the Boston Landmarks Commission that would have preserved it.
Menino said then that designating the 646-foot span a landmark “would only force upon the city an unfunded mandate and limit the city’s flexibility to address long-term transportation needs, including federal requirements of the US Coast Guard to keep the Fort Point Channel open to navigation.”
But Menino backed down from that position after the Evelyn Moakley Bridge was built adjacent to the old bridge and in a statement released Tuesday, he commended the public, private, and non-profit partners that made the bridge beautification possible.
“The Old Northern Avenue Bridge is an important connection between the Rose Kennedy Greenway and downtown and the buzzing Innovation District,” Menino said, “and now pedestrians will have an even more enjoyable walk between the two.”
David J. Warner, president of the South Boston-based landscape architecture firm Warner Larson, designed the new planters, donating his services to the project. Warner said Tuesday it was a challenging project.
“This is a very exposed site, with the wind and the cold,” he said. “Not only do we have planters surrounded by these extreme weather conditions, but it’s on a bridge, and there’s also air moving under the bridge.”
Warner said the 12 two-ton planters were built with insulation on all sides and on the bottom, to protect the roots of plants from the summer heat on days like Tuesday, when temperatures climbed into the 90s for the third consecutive day, and from the bitter cold of Boston winters.
He said the design also had to take into account the bridge’s location on the edge of Boston Harbor.
“We only used plants that we knew could survive in really exposed seashore conditions,” Warner said. “The challenge in selecting plants that are hardy is also selecting plants that are attractive and look good together.”
He said the planters are split between two different designs.
One includes holly, pine, juniper, Russian sage, Elijah Blue fescue grass, Angelina sedum, and purple-leaf sand cherry. The other includes thunderhead Japanese black pine, black-eyed Susans, cat mint, yarrow, coral bells, icy drift rose, Hameln fountain grass, winter chocolate heather, verbena, potato vine, and petunias.
Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com